Hustle and Bustle

Bright sunny weather is such a nice backdrop for opening a session of camp, as it was today when we welcomed slightly more than 200 girls to begin Rockbrook’s second main session. It added to the enthusiasm of the day, to the cheers from the counselors as cars drove up into camp, to smiles from everyone as the check in process unfolded smoothly.

Camp Trunk MovingWith this many people involved— the campers, their parents, and almost 100 staff members —the whole morning was quite a show of hustle and bustle. While some carried trunks, others set up their bunk. Some girls played tetherball, while others were introduced to the art of making a friendship bracelet. The morning included relaxed conversation too, as parents and campers reconnected with friends from last summer. The weather also just makes everything at camp look more inviting, more beautiful. Several parents commented that camp was looking “really good.” The flowers tucked in here and there, the massive boulders, old-growth trees, stone lodges, grassy hill, gurgling creeks —everything seemed to really pop in the bright sunshine.

We received a similar comment last week from two important visitors to Rockbrook. They too marveled at the woodsy feel of camp, the gently cared-for natural beauty of our setting, and the happy community of girls they met. These visitors were conducting an inspection of sorts, an on-site check that Rockbrook is meeting almost 300 health, safety, and program quality standards for summer camps as defined by the American Camp Association. As you may know, Rockbrook is accredited by the ACA, and has been for 30 years now. These periodic “visits” are part of the process to retain that accreditation, which by the way only about 17% of the camps in America have achieved. I’m happy to report that the inspection/visit this summer went extremely well, and after reviewing all of our policies and procedures, and examining every area of camp from the kitchen to the climbing tower, Rockbrook earned the highest marks.

Girl Camp AssemblyOnce everyone arrived today, we launched right into a few orientation activities. The whole camp assembled on the hill under the walnut tree to hear Sarah welcome everyone to camp, meet the leadership staff, and sing a few camp songs. Rick’s homemade mac-n-cheese, and fresh fruit (plus the super-stocked salad bars) made a tasty, comfortable lunch before the girls went back to their cabins for rest hour. But instead of resting, today they played name games, talked about cabin and camp safety rules, and learned more about the rhythms of camp life. During the swimming demonstrations where we check everyone’s swimming ability at the lake, the warm sunshine was a nice addition to the chilly water. We had fun music playing at the lake, all the directors helping, and a mob of lifeguards encouraging each girl as they jumped in. Later in the gym, we introduced all the girls to the different activities at camp, all the crafts, sports, and adventure things to do while they are here. The counselors teaching each activity took turns performing a skit or song about what they do, and with costumes and a dose of silliness, it was an entertaining hour. There was time to tour camp before dinner, which was another camp classic: grilled burgers, burger fixings, homemade french fries, and blackberry cobbler for dessert.

Tomorrow we will all scatter throughout the camp and get started making, climbing, shooting zipping, riding and playing in so many ways. Stay tuned. It’s gonna be great!

Camp Girl Swimmers

Camp Teaches Kindness

Rockbrook is accredited by the American Camp Association, an organization dedicated to defining and promoting professionalism and program quality among America’s summer camps. Through its many educational efforts and accreditation program, the ACA’s goal is to foster “greater public understanding of and support for the value of the camp experience” while “increasing [the] number of children, youth, and adults of all social, cultural, and economic groups [who] will have a camp experience.”

horse and small kidToday, the ACA has deemed July 24th “camp kindness day,” a day simply to celebrate kindness as a core characteristic of many camp communities.Tom Rosenberg, the current President and CEO of the ACA, and good friend of Rockbrook, put it this way: “At camp, everyone belongs and learns to contribute altruistically in a nurturing, physically and emotionally safe environment where they learn to build caring, trusting, and respectful relationships with individuals who are different from themselves.”

We’ve said it many times before; camp teaches girls to be kind. There’s a kinship, an intensity and closeness, to camp life where sharing this much (meals, chores, songs and laughs, for example) charges up our sympathy and compassion for each other. The camp community, defined by heartfelt relationships rooted in caring and generosity, simply inspires kindness toward others. At Rockbrook, it’s easy to see too. Girls are helping each other in every activity. They’re quick to comfort, support and encourage each other. There’s warmth and affection in every greeting and cheer. Living in this kind of positive community feels really good also. It opens us all up to be more trusting, and paves the way toward greater resilience and self-confidence. Of course, friendships blossom along the way, making everything more fun. Kindness is definitely key at camp. Hooray for #CampKindessDay !

camp rafting kidsAbout half the camp went whitewater rafting today on the Nantahala river. One group drove over on Monday to spend the night at our outpost campsite before rafting the next morning. This group had a great time roasting marshmallows over a campfire, listening to the whippoorwills out at night, and battling at least one wolf spider hiding in the rafters of the tent platforms. The second group arrived in time for lunch before their trip down the river.  For each trip, six girls, each outfitted with a PFD, paddle and helmet, piled into one of our rafts and with one of the RBC guides steering in the back, bumped and splashed down the 9 mile section of river. The predicted afternoon thundershowers held off until we were on our way back to camp, adding to everyone’s enjoyment of their time on the water.

Back at camp in time for dinner, the girls were excite to find out that it was “Birthday Night,” a fun special event where the dining hall is rearranged to allow everyone to sit at a table according to their birth month.

birthday campers birthday goofy girls

This is always a popular event because it means sitting with different people, staff and campers alike. It’s one big birthday party for everyone at camp, and since there are 12 months, we had 12 cakes, each decorated by the Hi-Ups with colorful frosting and candy designs. Never missing an opportunity to dress up, we also made this party even more fun by giving it a “sports” theme with decorations and costumes based on different sports teams and uniforms. It was a colorful party of good silly fun for the whole camp.

Nantahala falls rafting splash

ACA Visit Success!

Horse Camp Riding GirlThe American Camp Association is a 100-year-old organization of summer camps and individuals dedicated to helping “preserve, promote, and improve the camp experience” by sharing knowledge, conducting research, and developing continuing educational opportunities for summer camps in America. Part of this mission is an accreditation process that defines for summer camps key points of quality, health and safety, effectively identifying industry standards. If a camp chooses to meet these standards— there are almost 300 of them— it can be “ACA accredited” and thereby be understood as a program with “a solid foundation of health, safety, and program quality” with exceptional “accountability, credibility, and commitment,” as the ACA puts it. Being ACA accredited is not easy. In fact, only about 20% of the summer camps in America have the distinction of having this accreditation.

You are probably not surprised to learn, if you didn’t know already, that Rockbrook is an ACA accredited camp. All aspects of Rockbrook’s operation, facilities, programing, and staff qualifications have been evaluated and shown to meet or exceed the ACA accreditation standards. We have held this distinction since the late 1980s, being one of the first camps in the area to be accredited.

To maintain this accreditation, the ACA requires an on-site visit/inspection every 3 years to demonstrate and document a camp’s compliance to the standards, and today was Rockbrook’s “visit.” I am happy to report that our two “visitors,” after touring everything at camp, the activity areas, cabins, kitchen, Infirmary, and waterfront, and after examining a 5-inch think binder of documents describing Rockbrook’s policies and procedures, were very impressed. This visit, being so thorough, took all day, but in the end, we nicely sailed through everything. It was a great day touring our ACA visitors around camp. Their knowledge and quick praise of what we are doing at Rockbrook made everyone here feel good.

Lake Canoe Girls Reiflery ear protection campers

 

All Good in the Neighborhood

TelephoneWhile reading through the newest American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine, one article in particular caught my attention.  The article, CAMP: The Old Neighborhood for a New Generation by Jolly Corley, suggests that with school schedules more intense than ever before, it may be that kids are more intellectually stimulated than previous generations.  However, today’s youth may be missing out on learning valuable life skills.  Skills such as conflict management, problem solving, leadership and decision making.  Skills which are learned most effectively through free play.  Corley suggests that today’s generation needs unstructured play time more than children of past generations.

look up!The best place to practice these life skills is camp.  While American neighborhoods used to be the perfect setting for free play, this is no longer the case.  The old neighborhood was a place “where kids were free to play from the time they finished chores until they were called inside for dinner.”  An old neighborhood was one where children played free of adults, with kids of all ages, and often made up their own games and rules.  A neighborhood which still very much exists at camp.  This neighborhood is one that allows campers to practice developing soft skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

going herping!Every day at camp, campers are able to play with one another free from the interference of adults.  These interactions enable them to develop interpersonal skills that the typical school environment may not allow them to.  For example, a group of campers may decide that they want to play tennis during their free time.  Without adults telling them what to do, it is necessary for them to decide how to split up.  Will they play doubles or singles?  Who will be on each team?  Once the game gets going, they are in charge of regulating it.  Was that ball in or out?  Allowing campers to work these things out on their own will help them build lifelong skills in decision making and conflict management.

different ages on floatIn addition to these skills, campers are also able to learn leadership skills through play with different age groups.  Free play with younger children provides an opportunity for older children and adolescents to “practice nurturance and leadership.” Coley also explains how playing with older children can help younger ones to “problem solve in ways that are more sophisticated than what they are developmentally capable of if left on their own or playing with children of their same age.”  The soft skills that children gain through free play are necessary for those who are going to see success later in life.

different age girlsNever has the camp experience been as important as it is today.  Gone are the days that children can roam around with the neighborhood kids playing pick up basketball games and hide-and-seek.  Their schedules are rigid, their school work is more demanding than ever, and many parents fear leaving their children without adult supervision.  This is where camp comes in.  Camp creates an environment similar to the old American neighborhood, and it’s a safe one.  Children practice skills such as problem solving, conflict management, and leadership through free play with other children of all ages.  Most importantly, they don’t even realize that they’re doing it.  They’re having the time of their lives, and they’re growing exponentially.

Oblivious to the Weather

Camp girl hits bullseye in archeryGirls dancing in camp dance studioIt seems like the weather is on everyone’s mind these days, everywhere except here at camp. While it’s been hitting triple digits for many cities in the southeast, Rockbrook has defied the forecasters and just today crept into the nineties. In fact, if you ask our Rockbrook girls about camp, they probably won’t mention needing air conditioning or feeling burdened by the humidity. That’s probably in part because it still very predictably cools off at night, reaching into the 60s, and making it comfortable sleeping conditions in the open-air cabins, but it’s also because, from the girls’ perspective, what we’re doing at camp -all of the adventure trips, in-camp activities, and special surprises- fills the day so completely. We haven’t slowed down one bit because of the weather. If anything, the girls are more fully engaged- shooting, riding, climbing, painting, hiking, tying, decorating, floating, and zipping all day long. It’s incredible to consider that all of it is happening simultaneously!

Another reason the girls seem oblivious to the weather is how well we all are eating thanks to Rick’s kitchen magic. Each meal brings out a surprise item, whether it’s the freshly baked chocolate chip scones for breakfast, the secret-recipe guacamole that accompanied our famous “taco lunch” yesterday, or the mountain of homemade smashed red potatoes he prepared with chicken tenders and green beans for dinner. He has also been serving an endless supply of fresh fruit at every meal- awesome strawberries, local sweet blackberries, watermelon, peaches, and of course bananas and apples available 24/7 out on the dining hall porch. Oh, I should mention the wild muffin flavor we had today: oatmeal, date, pistachio. Maybe a little on the healthy side, but I heard from several girls they liked them just fine.

Camp girl smiles while swimmingYou may have noticed that Rockbrook is an accredited camp, that we have agreed to meet or exceed more than 300 industry standards as defined by the American Camp Association. Among summer camps in America, these define the best health and safety practices for all aspects of a camp’s operation, facilities, programing, and staff qualifications. This accreditation requires an on-site visit to demonstrate and/or document compliance, and today was Rockbrook’s ACA visit (“inspection,” though they don’t like to call it that!). You’ll be pleased to know that our two visitors were very impressed with Rockbrook. After touring the entire facility, examining most of the activities, and reviewing a 5-inch thick folder of documents describing our policies and procedures, we sailed right through everything. This isn’t too surprising since we’ve done this well for years now (We were one of the first camps in the area to become ACA accredited back in the 1980s.), but it’s nice to strut our stuff a little and receive this kind of praise.

Girls making a yard doll at campWrapping up the day, local master storyteller Gary Greene visited camp for a campfire program of songs, stories and skits. As the sun set across the valley and the campfire crackled, the Middlers and Juniors joined Gary singing a few songs and acting out characters in a couple of his stories. Gary really knows how to focus a crowd, even when it’s about 100 little girls all under 12 years old! Meanwhile, the Senior girls were holding an “open mic” coffee house in their lodge. This was a chance for girls to sing or play an instrument, recite a poem, perform a dance or tell a brief story with their friends. Every performance, no matter how poised or polished, was wildly received with the whole line whooping and clapping at the end. To me that was another example of how supportive and encouraging the girls at Rockbrook are toward each other, how much they’ve grown closer and become good friends. For the typical teenager, that can be a big deal… To be accepted and included, in an important way, loved by her peers. Camp is a community with that power and that spirit.  Seeing it action is always a real treat.

Camp girl balancing on gymnastics high bar Camp girls soaking their feet in the creek Camp girl aiming her rifle

The Youth Camps of North Carolina

Visitors to western North Carolina often remark that there are a lot of summer camps located in the area. There sure are! The awesome natural features of this part of NC— the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, millions of acres of State and National forests, whitewater rivers, rock climbing crags, and beautiful lakes —make it ideal for adventure activities, cooler summer temperatures, and the outdoor setting for summer camps. It’s not too surprising western North Carolina has a long history of summer camping.

Looking at the entire state, there’s a clear pattern to where summer camps are located. Take a look at this map.

Summer Camps in North Carolina

It shows the youth summer camps in western North Carolina. In the entire state, there are approximately 186 camps, with more than half (about 90) located in the western mountains. The others are concentrated near 3 major population centers (Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh). Many of these are smaller day camps that serve the local communities.

The red pins are accredited by American Camp Association accredited camps, like Rockbrook. Here too, more than half of the State’s ACA accredited camps are located in the western region.

For more information about the precise location of Rockbrook, visit our NC Location page.

youth campers in NC

More Benefits of Youth Camp

Camp Benefits GirlsI spotted an article discussing how parents can understand why residential summer camps are worth their cost. It’s true; sleepaway camps are usually expensive and can cost between $1000 and $2000 per week. And while it’s also true every summer activity (e.g., other educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, family vacations, trips, and entertainment) costs something significant, what are the unique benefits of an overnight camp experience that can justify its price?

First of all, the American Camp Association has a lot to say about the benefits for youth of attending summer camp. We have written about it before here and here (and especially here!), but you should visit the ACA Web site to see what they say.

One clear, obvious benefit to camp is the fun and concrete skills kids gain from the wide range of camp activities available.  By trying everything at camp, girls learn how to be an archer, a swimmer, a knitter, a tennis player, an actor, and a horseback rider, to name just a few.  They learn to do things, exciting new things that can easily turn into life-long pursuits.

Perhaps more importantly, a quality camp experience provides kids intangible benefits as well. Here’s how one camp director in the article put it.

“Besides all the exciting activities and friendships made, the immense value in camp comes in the development of key lifetime skills and attributes such as confidence, cooperation, communication, new skills and decision-making, to name a few. Camp goes beyond a summer session. It’s unique in that it really is about each camper developing their best self for life… In that regard it is priceless.”

More than other summer activities, a sleep away summer camp experience endows children with valuable life skills, provides positive adult role models, supports them with consistent encouragement, and all within the kind of well-rounded wholesome environment all too rarely found these days. These are lasting benefits that can really make a difference in a child’s life as she becomes an adult.  It’s pretty clear; with that kind of benefit, camp is definitely worth it.

The History of Summer Camps

1861 First Summer Camp

The American Camp Association, the national accrediting organization for summer camps (including RBC!) and camp professionals is celebrating its 100 year anniversary. It was back in 1910 that it was founded under the original name of the “Camp Directors Association of America.”

As part of their celebration, the ACA has published a nice collection of historical photos, documents and interviews. It traces the history of organized camping to a particular event in 1861. Here’s how the timeline starts:

The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful, the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

It’s nice to see summer camps so well represented, and interesting to think that Rockbrook’s founding in 1921 came so soon after the ACA. By the way, if you want to learn more about the history of summer camps, there are some great resources out there.